The depiction of the immigrant in North America is frequently used as a political football. Depending on a number of factors; race, class, legal status, and the political and economic climate of the moment, immigrants can be depicted in media as tender seedlings of the ‘American dream’ or as a menacing criminal presence. Fluid Roots was born as a visual response to negative representations of immigrants in American popular media.
In this series, I collaborated with ten immigrants of diverse national origins living in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. Together we created portraits that told a story in their own words. Through lengthy discussions, we chose settings and locations for their portraits that related to each individual’s daily life. They were encouraged to include possessions in the photos that hold symbolic meaning or convey personal history. One participant incorporated her family members. Another incorporated the child she cared for. It was important to me to create images that were vocal. I wanted to make photos in which the subject was not just a face to look at, but one that spoke to the viewer. After giving copies of the portraits to each participant, they wrote a reflection on the images. These statements served as personal narrations. I asked them questions about the settings of the photographs, about their goals and fears, and about the concept of “home”. I then paired the photographs with selections from their writings.
This project was driven by a notion of portrait photography as a collaborative process. It is a testament to teachers, learners, artists, and caretakers – to workers, parents, and sacrificers who stretch their roots across countries and continents.